612-644-9781 info@crossfitslipstream.com

Pacing, Mental Fitness & the Tie That Binds

Our last two blog posts have discussed Pacing and Mental Fitness, respectively.  Pacing is the art of calibrating your effort for maximum average power output, resulting in maximum performance.  “Mental fitness” is a catch-all term we use to describe the mental aspect of athletic performance – how well you are able to steer your mental chatter towards optimum performance.  We could say how ‘fit’  you are mentally.   The two are closely intertwined, of course, and the tie that binds them together is breathing.

…to really use our breath to our athletic advantage, we have to first notice the fact of breathing and then begin taking a degree of control over it.

Very few of us know how to breathe.  Oh, we all breathe, all day long, and do a perfectly workable job of not dying.  That’s a start.  But to really use our breath to our athletic advantage, we have to first notice the fact of breathing and then begin taking a degree of control over it.

Related: Aerobic Capacity – What Is It & Why Is It Important?

This process begins with becoming consciously aware of your breathing.  We have begun this process at CrossFit Slipstream, primarily during weightlifting efforts, focusing on exhaling when working against gravity, and inhaling while working with gravity.  That is, exhale while lifting, inhale while lowering.  Sometimes we hold while lowering, especially on our heaviest efforts to help brace our core.  These are three of the four basic things to do with your breath: in, out, hold full, and hold empty.  A great way to build awareness is to “box breathe” – breathe in, hold, breathe out, and hold empty for the same time each.  Try a 4-count, and shorten if you need to:

The next step is to evaluate the effect these breathing patterns have on our efforts: do you feel stronger? Weaker? No change?  Do you feel less winded after a lifting set?  More?  Paying attention to the effect of different breathing techniques allows us to be as scientific (or at least systematic) as possible in working with our breath.  It’s not enough just to exhale now and inhale then because your coach told you to – you have to take responsibility for paying attention, identifying the effect of the breath, and provide feedback to yourself and your coach on what you experience as a result of breath work.

From weightlifting, in which it is relatively easy to manipulate and evaluate our breathing patterns, we increase the difficulty and begin applying it to our met-cons, runs, and other endurance activities.  In these situations, breathing with the diaphragm, as deeply as possible, and as slowly as possible, becomes our goal.  Keeping your effort aligned with your breath is the best, surest, way to keep your effort from crossing into oxygen debt, which will force you to slow down.

 Related: Intensity: The Key to Improving Your Physical Fitness

Being aligned with your breath means that your movements are timed with your breathing – not the other way around.  For maximum average power output your breathing should be deep, rapid, and just able to keep you out of oxygen debt.  That means that you can continue your effort without needing to stop and rest or slow down significantly.  The exhale is forceful and occurs when you need to move against gravity when lifting or doing bodyweight movements.  The inhale is deep, driven by the diaphragm, and timed to correspond to your movement with gravity.  For running, cycling, and similar activities, breathing is deep, regular, and aligned with your movement cadence.

Begin with this basic discovery of your breath and its abilities to calm your mind, power your movements, and regulate your effort.  More advanced performance measures begin regulating the pace of the breath, affecting your CO2 levels and other variables that affect performance.

-John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

john@crossfitslipstream.com

Aerobic Capacity Training, Part 2: Pacing

There are many additional benefits of aerobic capacity training to those discussed in Part 1, but they can be summarized in one word: pacing.  Pacing sometimes has a negative connotation to the arrogant, who might stereotype it as what wimps or losers do.  Winners charge out of the gate and don’t slow down!  Except that if you charge all out you will slow down when your glycolytic energy system is out of fuel, your muscles are chock full of lactate, and your heart rate is pegged at its maximum.  If you’re fit, that won’t happen for events less than 2:00, so if that’s the time domain the workout or event demands, by all means, slam the throttle and Go!  But for anything beyond 2:00, finding your maximum sustainable pace for the time you expect it to take is the highest intensity – and wisest – choice you can make.

…for anything beyond 2:00, finding your maximum sustainable pace for the time you expect it to take is the highest intensity – and wisest – choice you can make.

Simple test: run for 100m as fast as you possibly can.  How fast will you choose to run?  Pretty darn fast (relative to your body’s top speed), since 100m won’t take a very long time, and your phosphate & glycolytic energy systems can provide plenty of energy for that period of time.  Rest a bit, then run 1 mile as fast as you possibly can.  You could start out at your 100m pace, but you’ll exhaust those two energy systems and still have 1,500m left to go.

Obviously, the sensible thing to do is to run as fast as you think you can possibly hold for the full mile from the start.  This will feel relatively easy at the beginning, since you are full of oxygen and not using your glycolytic energy system at its maximum rate.  Your pace will not be near your body’s top speed, and your heart rate will not be at maximum.  To start.

Related: Why 50-60% of 1 Rep Max Makes You Fitter

As you continue to run, the byproducts of glycolytic metabolism will build up, signs of stress will multiply, and your mind will start talking to you, trying to get you to slow down.  If you have chosen your pace wisely, and are applying strong “mental fitness” – positive self talk and other techniques that help you resist the mind’s calls to slow down – you will run out of gas and be forced to stop just as you cross the finish line.  That is how you run the fastest mile you are capable of running.

CrossFit is a Constantly Varied selection of Functional Movements performed at High Intensity.  Your highest average intensity for a workout is achieved with proper pacing, rather than going out too fast, crashing, recovering mid-workout, and then resuming a high pace.  This fast start —> slow middle—> fast finish can create the false impression of high intensity.  It happens all the time.

Our famous 21-15-9 rep scheme gives us an easy example: You blow the doors off the round of 21, but were completely anaerobic, and collapse (at least metaphorically – you may still be on your feet, but probably with your hands on your knees) as you struggle through a 4 or 5-set version of your 15 reps of each exercise, gasping after not even a handful of reps.  This does allow you to recover, and, hey, it’s just 9 reps, so you blow through the round of 9, collapse on the ground, make your sweat demon, and pat yourself on the back for your “high intensity” workout.  But what you really did was turn a single high intensity workout – go hard, finish with everything you have – into an interval workout – sprint, rest, sprint.

The latter will not give you the benefits you would have received from a more evenly paced workout.  On top of that, you would’ve finished the whole thing faster had you found a pace you could hold throughout the workout rather than sprinting, resting, and sprinting (see, for example, the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare).

I once had a swim coach advise me to sprint everything in the 200 yard Individual Medley because you’re switching strokes every 50 yards, so you’re switching muscle groups, so it’s just 50 yards of a stroke, which is a sprint.  But those different muscle groups are all running off the same three energy systems!  The change does mean that you can go a little harder than you would for 200 of one thing, but you still cannot treat it as an all-out sprint and expect to finish with the fastest time you are capable of.  The truth is, even for CrossFit events with lots of different elements, such as the Filthy 50’s 10 different movements, pacing is a critical skill.

The more aware we are of our heart rate, breathing, the way the working and non-working muscles feel, the more we get to know what a given effort feels like, the better we can adjust our pace. 

Aerobic Capacity workouts give us the opportunity to focus on our pacing and get to know the physiological signs of our effort.  The more aware we are of our heart rate, breathing, the way the working and non-working muscles feel, the more we get to know what a given effort feels like, the better we can adjust our pace.  This allows us to check in during a met-con and determine how we are doing relative to our desired effort.  We can then adjust our pace and/or apply mental fitness as needed to finish in our best possible time.

Related: Training for Obstacle Course Racing

Pacing training also expands the range of time domains we can prepare for in the gym, despite our one hour class times.  You don’t need a 90-minute workout to practice your 90 minute pace.  Let’s say you’re preparing for a half-marathon, and want to train your body to finish in about 90 minutes.  That’s right under 7:00 per mile, so you can start by running a mile in as close to 7:00 as possible.

But you can also break that down further – it’s 3:30 for 800m, 1:45 per 400m, and 0:55 per 200m.  So you can run repeats of any of those distances for the goal time, and the process will teach your body and mind what a 7:00 pace feels like.  This will allow you to settle into your pace more quickly, and hold it more accurately over the course of the race, without ever having to do a full race-effort half marathon in training (which would be rather silly, wouldn’t it?).

By learning to pace properly, you can achieve and maintain the highest intensity you are capable of for a given time domain.  By practicing the required intensity for a longer event for shorter periods of time, you prepare your body and mind to understand – to “feel” – what it’s like to hold that pace, dramatically increasing your ability to actually hold your desired pace and thus achieve your goal for that event.  This makes us more capable, happier, and more confident athletes, capable of tackling whatever we set our minds to.

—John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

CrossFit Slipstream

john@crossfitslipstream.com

Member Highlight – Meet John

1. Why did you decide to try CrossFit?    
I noticed that I was struggling with my energy level.   My job consists of mainly sitting on my rear until lunch, eating lunch, going back to sitting on my rear.    As a man who is approaching 50, this is a recipe for disaster.   I have children and would really like to live long enough to bounce grandbabies on my knee someday.
2. How is having a CrossFit coach changed your workout or fitness results?     
As a younger man, I always perceived workouts as a means to ‘get big’ and stay slim.   I find that Crossfit delivers on much more.  Flexibility, cardiovascular health, strength and most importantly, an increase in energy level have resulted from my work at Slipstream.
3. How has doing CrossFit affected your health and/or life?   
CrossFit has positively affected all other areas of my life.  I find myself doing a better job as a husband, employer, daddy.    I have the energy to finish each day strong.
4. What is your favorite CrossFit movement?     
Turning on the shower after a workout.
5. What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying CrossFit?     
 Don’t feel like you have to be at a certain fitness level before coming in.  I find that when I encourage friends to try CrossFit, they feel like it is only for advanced athletes.   The conversation usually goes like this:
Me:  Hey, you should try CrossFit!
Them:   No way, that’s for advanced athletes.
Me:  That’s really not true, CrossFit can be modified to accommodate any fitness level.
Them:  Really?  Why, have you tried it?
Me: Yep, been doing it for almost two years now.
Them:  **Looking down at my gut**  I guess you’re right, maybe I will try it.

Aerobic Capacity – What Is It & Why Is It Important?

Our regular members have noticed that along with our current strength cycle, we have introduced “Aerobic Capacity Wednesdays.”  You may be wondering what it’s for, and why you should attend these or other aerobic capacity workouts, which are lower intensity than our usual metabolic conditioning (“met-con”) work.  Traditionally, CrossFit has used only short, explosive efforts like the Olympic lifts and high-intensity metabolic conditioning (“met-cons”) to develop the body’s three known energy systems.  Workouts designed specifically to develop aerobic capacity is the biggest change in CrossFit programming since the founding of CrossFit, and it’s reasonable to ask why we should include it in our programming.

Which system provides energy as duration of effort increases

Let’s start to answer that with a discussion of the three energy systems and some important terms.  Two energy systems function without oxygen and are therefore known as “anaerobic,” meaning “without air.”  These are the phosphagen system (also known as the ATP-CP system) and the glycolytic system.  The phosphagen system only lasts about 10 seconds before the body has used up the stored creatine phosphate (the “CP” in “ATP-CP”), and can no longer supply enough energy this way.  The glycolytic system uses a process called “anaerobic glycolysis” to produce energy.  It’s fast, but inefficient, and byproducts of the process build up in your muscles.  You know it’s dominating when your muscles feel like they’re on fire, get stiff, and your brain starts screaming at you to slow down.  That’s the result of the buildup of those byproducts.  Aerobic glycolysis, in contrast, generates energy without that buildup, so you can sustain an “aerobic” level of effort.

Related: Intensity– The Key to Improving Your Physical Fitness

Aerobic capacity means the amount of oxygen your body can consume in a given time frame, usually one minute.  It is measured by the formula:

VO2 max = Q(CaO2 – CvO2)

Where: Q = the Quantity of blood your heart can pump in the given time frame, and CaO2 and CvO2 represent the Concentration (C) of Oxygen (O2) in your arteries (a) and veins (v), respectively.

In other words, how good is your body at (1) pumping blood and (2) drawing oxygen from that blood as it passes by your cells?  The better you are at both, the higher your VO2 max will be, and the easier a given work level will feel, because you’ll be in the aerobic system, without the buildup of byproducts that come with using the glycolytic system.

Aerobic capacity workouts push our anaerobic threshold higher, so we can remain aerobically dominant and able to continue without rest at a higher work output.  In CrossFit language, it increases our work capacity.  

While we get the most bang for our exercise buck from high-intensity work, the effect of that high intensity work is concentrated on our phosphagen system for our sprints and heavy lifts and the glycolytic energy system for met-cons.  While met-cons definitely train the aerobic system, the very definition of “high intensity” is that we are pushing ourselves to the upper limit of our ability, which means we are constantly pushing against the line between which of the aerobic system and the glycolytic system predominates.

This line is known as our “anaerobic threshold.”  We can go over the line into glycolytic system domination to finish our thrusters unbroken.  The price we pay is the need to rest in order to clear some of the byproducts and “catch our breath” before we can start our pull-ups.

Related: CrossFit ‘As Rx’ vs. Personal Progress

Aerobic capacity workouts push our anaerobic threshold higher, so we can remain aerobically dominant and able to continue without rest at a higher work output.  In CrossFit language, it increases our work capacity.  In practical terms, it means you can finish your thrusters and go right into your pull-ups, dramatically improving your performance.  While aerobic capacity work does not increase our work capacity across all time domains, it certainly impacts everything over the 10 seconds or so that the phosphagen system lasts.  And that’s a lot of performance.

–John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

john@crossfitslipstream.com

Why Personal Training?

Intensity is the bread and butter of our programming, making it possible to improve your fitness by taking one-hour group classes a few times a week. However, group sessions may not focus on a skill or technique that you’ve been wanting to learn.  Or a class may move too fast to really sink your teeth into a movement.  Or you may have a specific goal in mind, and it isn’t happening as fast as you want in group classes.  If any of these feel like they apply, you should consider a personal training session with one of your coaches here at Slipstream. In this post, we’ll go over a couple of the key benefits you could gain from one-on-one sessions. While there’s nothing quite like working out with a group that motivates you, personal training can help you reach a specific goal or goals.


FOCUS

The biggest difference between a group class and a personal training session is the increase in focus: from you, from your coach, and from the workout. Scientific studies consistently support the hypothesis that supervised exercise leads to faster rates of improvement (usually measured in increases in strength). While we pride ourselves on providing attentive instruction in all our classes here at Slipstream, personal training takes this a step further.  Instead of sharing a coach with a group of people, your coach is focused on you, your goals, and making your time in the gym the best it can be.

Related: The Mindfulness of Movement


INDIVIDUALIZATION

Everybody (and every body) is different, and while our coaches are great at adapting workouts to each individual, personal training takes this a step further. Your coach will spend time going over your unique strengths, weaknesses, and goals to design workouts specific to your individual goals, be they skill, strength, endurance, or whatever you choose.

Related: Continuing Education: Benefits of Learning New Skills


ACCOUNTABILITY

Another benefit of personal training sessions is increased accountability.  You’re less likely to pass up a workout, or just go easy, when you have an appointment with a coach and a program specific to you. We are all for taking a rest day when it’s needed, but more accountability might be exactly what you need to get you in the gym from day-to-day.  Know also that your trainer will adjust the workout to your abilities that day.  So if you’re low on gas, it may be a great chance to work on a mobility or other issue that is holding you back, instead of the 20:00 thrasher originally planned.


EDUCATION

The one-on-one format of personal training also allows you time to ask plenty of questions about your workouts, or anything else you’ve been curious about. For example, a lot of times we don’t have time in class to dig into the “why” behind the workout. Why do we do certain exercise? Why are we doing X number of reps? etc. Also, you’ll be able to find out what “homework” you might need to do in order to reach your goals. For example, your coach will be able to individually address mobility, recovery, and other things you can do at home that can help make the most of your time in the gym.


“The biggest difference you’ll notice between a group class and a personal training session is an increase in focus: from you, from your coach, and from the workout.”

CrossFit Slipstream exists to help you get the results you want, but we can’t do that without help from you. It starts with your initial goals statement when you join. Your free consults are a great time to continue the process. But if you’re wanting to take the next step, reach a specific goal, or reach it sooner, personal training is the shortest distance between you and that goal. If you’re interested in setting up a personal training appointment, contact us by email at info@crossfitslipstream.com, or speak with Susan or any of the coaches at the gym and we’ll be happy to help.

–Jay Alexander

Coach/Trainer

jay@crossfitslipstream.com

CrossFit? But I’m an Endurance Athlete!

CrossFit is a general physical fitness program, and is to all physical activity as decathlon is to track and field – broad, but not deep.  Nevertheless, CrossFit can help you accomplish any sport-specific goal in one of three ways: (1) as the foundation of general physical fitness on which you layer specialty training, (2) in-season strength training, OR (3) as off-season training to get stronger, maintain cardiovascular fitness, avoid burnout and prevent injury.

…CrossFit can help you accomplish any sport-specific goal in one of three ways…

Which approach is right for you depends on the importance of the sport to you and your athletic goals – including its seasonality.

The more your goals involve being genuinely competitive against other racers and the more defined your season, the more specific your training should be.  For you, doing CrossFit in the off-season under the watchful eye of a coach who knows and keeps your goals in mind, is the right choice.  A few months of CrossFit will restore your strength, recover lost mobility, and keep you healthy for another season of competition.  You may even find your performance improved by your experience, as you improve your strength-to-weight ratio, explosive strength, balance, and other attributes translate into improved performance.

You will also appreciate the mental break: in CrossFit, your workouts are programmed for you, there’s no waiting for equipment, and you can focus on working hard without the hassles of a gym full of people doing different things.

You may choose to continue either CrossFit or more specific strength training two or three days per week during your competitive season to preserve your hard-won gains, maintain the advantages they bestow upon you, and keep a rhythm that will allow you to build even greater fitness during the next off season.

Related: Mental Fitness

If your athletic goals are year-round, or more focused on the process, participation, or personal achievement, CrossFit is a fantastic year-round foundation for your sport-specific preparation.  Here, you use CrossFit for basic physical fitness and especially for core strength, then layer as much specific training as you need and can perform to reach your sport-specific goals.  We’re delighted to program all of it for you, if you’d like.

Related: What Do You DO at a CrossFit Box?

So athletes, come give CrossFit Slipstream a try with a free introductory workout, visit our “Guest Days,” or come see us at season’s end.

–John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

john@crossfitslipstream.com

Zero to Push-up Hero: Tips on how to get your first strict push-up

Push-ups can be incredibly frustrating! Some of us may be able to bench press, deadlift, or squat 1-2 times our body weight, but still struggle with creating that beautiful, hollow-looking push up. Add to this the challenge of performing this motion rep after rep and we have a recipe for frustration and self-doubt. As a coach, I find myself being approached, especially by female athletes, about how to up their push-up game. Oftentimes, these athletes have tremendous strength or amazing endurance but completing a push-up still eludes them.

While both men and women struggle with pushups, athletes who are biologically female may find themselves struggling longer than people who are biologically male. Women tend to have less muscle mass per pound, with less muscle mass being distributed on the upper body.  Testosterone levels also impact muscle development, with higher testosterone typically leading to larger muscle mass. This doesn’t mean that if you are female-bodied or have low testosterone that you can never get a push-up. Have you seen female gymnasts or rock climbers? They are some of the best athletes at body-weight training ever. All this means is that you need to train intelligently and practice body-weight drills a little more frequently in order to achieve top-heavy body-weight movements like the push-up or pull-up.

“Many of these drills (especially negatives and super-slow drills) also apply to pull-ups, squats, deadlifts, and bench press.”

Below are some basic tools you can use to up your push-up game. I have presented them to you in order of difficulty. However,  feel free to try them all to see where you’re at. Many of these drills (especially the negatives and the super-slow movements) also apply to pull-ups, squats, deadlifts, and bench press.

Related: Zero to Hero: Drills for Your First Pull-Up


ECCENTRICS/NEGATIVES (can be done on the floor, box, rig, or wall)

For this specific exercise we are only looking at the lowering phase of the push up. The goal of this movement is to build up all of the muscles that you will need to help lower yourself in a diagonal line.

“1-3 sets of 3-5 repetitions at 3-5 second descents will build your strength pretty quickly.”

Begin from the plank position by actively pushing against the ground and flexing your quads and abs (top picture below). You should have a slightly hollowed out upper back like mine. Your goal is to be able to keep the hollow position as you start lowering yourself to the ground. As you come to the bottom of the push up, you should be hitting the floor with your chest and thighs first. Your goal is to get your shoulders below your elbows with your forearms as vertical as possible (bottom picture). Whether you are doing this on the wall, a box, a barbell, or on the floor, try to lower as slowly as possible. I recommend working your way up to a 5 second descent. Once you make it to the bottom, relax on the ground and when you are ready, get yourself back to plank position. 1-3 Sets of 3-5 repetitions at 3-5 second descents will build your strength pretty quickly.

 

Top of the Push Up

Bottom of the Push Up

 


Hands off ground or Hand release pushups (these are done on the floor)

This drill focuses on the concentric or “up” phase of the push-up. Begin with your stomach, chest and thighs on the ground. Lift your hands off the ground so that they are hovering above where you normally place them (again with the goal of creating a vertical forearm). When you are ready, dig your toes into the ground and slap your hands on the floor, attempting to lift yourself in one straight line. As best you can, avoid lifting the chest before the abdomen. 2-5 sets of 3-5 reps should help you get better at this part of the push-up movement.

 


Super Slow Pushups (can be done on the floor, box, rig, or wall)

You’re goal here is to learn how to stabilize in each part of the push-up. When you go “super-slow” you are provided with instant feedback. Are your hips sagging? Are your elbows flaring? Are you hunching your shoulders rather than getting into a more hollow-looking top position? To do these push-ups, start off in plank position and slowly lower for a set amount of seconds. Pause at the bottom (if you want to pause for the same amount of seconds—even better), and then slowly rise for the same duration. Work your way up to 5 seconds. 1-3 sets of 3-5 reps at 2-5 seconds will start getting you stronger and ready to handle higher volumes.

Related:The Mindfulness of Movement

Once you get your first five push-ups, you can start being creative with your hand and feet positions. Heck you can even attempt plyometric push-ups where, for a second, neither your feet nor your hands are on the ground!

If you have any questions, or want to schedule a one-on-one personal training session to practice these skills, feel free to reach out to me at jasmine@crossfitslipstream.com or John at John@crossfitslipstream.com.

Until next time, keep push-upping on!

Jasmine Gerritsen

Trainer/Coach

jasmine@crossfitslipstream.com

Member Highlight – Meet Natalie!

1. Why did you decide to try CrossFit?
My brother-in-law told me about CrossFit workout and thought I would like it.

2. How is having a CrossFit Coach changed your workout or fitness results? 
Having a CrossFit coach is so great because their knowledge and enthusiasm push you to do your best workout correctly.

3. How has doing CrossFit affected your health and/or life?
CrossFit has changed my life in many ways. A couple are: 1) It is part of my daily routine that I was missing before.  2) I feel so much stronger and focused in my daily life.

4. What is your favorite CrossFit movement?
My favorite CrossFit movement is sit-ups…and yes I couldn’t do one before I started CrossFit training, now I can 20+ at a time.

5. What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying CrossFit?

Try it! I was a little nervous at first but I am so happy I found CrossFit Slipstream because it does feel like family.

Zero to Hero: Drills for Your First Pull-Up

Pull-ups are one of the most simple and effective back, shoulder, and arm exercises we have, providing a huge “bang for your buck”, perfect for those of us who don’t want to or can’t spend 8 hours in a gym every day. All we have to do is hang from a bar and pull ourselves up until our chin is over the bar, easy enough, right? If you found yourself shouting “Wrong!”, then you’re in the right place. Today, we’ll go over four drills that will help develop our grip and upper body pulling strength to reach the iconic fitness milestone of our first strict pull-up.

Related: The Slipstream Approach to Training

To be clear, we’re focusing solely on strict pull-ups here. While kipping may make the movement easier, it is essential to injury prevention to build a strong base of strict pull-ups before moving on to kipping. By being patient and taking this route, we ensure that all the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that make up the shoulder joint are strong enough to handle the increased demands that kipping places on them. All these drills we’ll go over are intended to be done separately, so 10 minutes before or after a class focusing on one of them is all you need to start making progress towards this elusive goal.

Related: 4 Simple Shoulder Mobility Movements

  1. ACTIVE HANG

To begin this drill, stand underneath a bar you can reach on your tiptoes. Start by wrapping both hands as far over the bar as possible, knuckles facing away from you. Pick your feet up off the ground, and now we’ll focus on finding the “active” position. Starting from the top down, we want our head neutral with gaze straight forward, and shoulders active by slightly pulling your shoulder blades down. Squeeze the belly, point the toes, and bring feet just slightly in front of the bar. Every muscle in the body will feel fired up here. Start small by holding this position for 10-15 seconds, and work on this until you can hold for 1 minute unbroken.

  1. SCAPULAR PULL-UPS

This drill will build on the active hang position, so make sure you’ve mastered the first drill before moving on to scapular (“scap”) pull-ups. For these we’ll start in the active hang position, and then focus on pressing down and into the bar to pull our shoulder blades back and down even further. Arms stay fully extended throughout this and continue to focus on squeezing the belly. In the finish position the body will still be in one line but tilted slightly backwards when viewed from side. Start with 3 sets of as many as you can, and work on these until you can do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

  1. NEGATIVE PULL-UPS

To start this drill, place a box underneath the bar so that the bar is only a couple inches above your head. You can think of these as reverse pull-ups, where we slowly lower down instead of pulling up. This eccentric or lengthening phase of a movement is one of the most effective ways to build strength, even though you’re not doing an actual pull-up. Jump up so that the chin is over the bar, and cross ankles behind you. Lower down as slowly as possible, which may be anywhere from 3 to 10 seconds. While lowering, focus on not letting the elbows flare out to the sides too far, and control the movement all the way down until the arms are fully extended before placing your feet back on the box. Jump back up and repeat for 3 sets of 5 reps.

  1. BARBELL PULL-UPS

The setup for this drill is a bit complicated, but definitely worth it. To start, place a barbell onto j-hooks about hip height or a bit higher. Wrap bands around the end of the barbell and j-hooks to secure the barbell in place. Then place a box a couple feet in front of the bar. Now, to start the drill, sit underneath the barbell, grab onto it, and place heels on the box in front of you. In this starting position, arms should be fully extended and hips should be off the ground. Start with active shoulders, just like we did in the active hang, and initiate the movement with a scap pull-up. Pull-up to the bar with elbows staying in close to side body. Work on these until you can complete 3 sets of 3-5 reps without feeling like you’re driving into the box with the feet. If in the beginning, these are still very difficult, raise the barbell to take more of the load out of our arms, so keep working on these and lower the bar one or two holes every time you work on these.

Related: How Do I Stay Consistent With My Fitness?

If it seems like progress on these drills is moving slowly for you, don’t get discouraged! Pull-ups are incredibly difficult and require a range of skills besides strength, like stability and total body coordination. Therefore, it may take quite a bit of time to build up to even be able to do just one. But know that if you’re in it for the long haul, the feeling when you finally do get your chin over the bar will be that much sweeter.

–Jay Alexander

Coach/Trainer

jay@crossfitslipstream.com

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